Why Project Management Is Different to Operations Management

What’s the difference between project management and operations management?

This brief post summarises the main differences between ongoing operations and projects .

Why Project Management Is Different to Operations Management

Operations Management is an ongoing organisational function that performs activities to produce products or supply services. For instance, production operations, manufacturing, IT service management, and accounting operations.

Furthermore, operations are permanent endeavours that produce repetitive outputs. Resources are assigned to do the same tasks according to operating procedures and policy.

In contrast, projects are temporary and help the business to meet organisational goals and to respond quickly and easily to the external environment. Organisations use projects to change operations, products and services to meet business need, gain competitive advantage and respond to new markets.

Different Objectives

Projects require project management whereas operations requires business process management or operations management.

However, projects and operations do meet at various points during the life-cycle of a product or service. For example when:

  • Re-engineering business processes,
  • Developing or changing product and services, and
  • Improving operations or product development.

The goal of process management is to improve processes continually. Improving operational processes may increase effectiveness, cut costs and gain competitive advantage.

Projects are about driving change in the organisation. For instance, using business process re-engineering to align business need with customer expectation.

Different Skills

Moreover, the skills needed by the project manager are different to those needed by operational managers.

Project Manager Operational Manager
Role ends with project Routine
Temporary team Stable organisation
Many different skills Specialist skills
Work not done before Work repeatable
Time, cost and scope constraints Annual planning cycle
Difficult to estimate time and budget Budgets set and fixed events

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Have Your Say

Have I missed anything? How would you describe the difference between project management and operations management? Please join the discussion. Creative Commons image courtesy Calvin Cardenas.

Comments

  1. says

    Good explanation Martin. You always have such good information that we can use and define systems for our businesses and offices. I hope you are well and I always look forward to hearing from you.

    Tina

  2. Ibrahim Soliman says

    Thanks Martin. A helpful and simple article.

    I was looking for a solution to a problem I am facing, as I am performing “Project Management” activities (many projects in parallel) inside a big operations sector in my company (1200 Employees.)

    I started to clash with the “Operation Managers” due to the concepts of “Time constrains” and “Dead-line Commitment” which are at high level in the projects but at low level with the Operations.

    For now I am thinking and reading trying to figure out a proper way to get them involved with high sense of project “Dead-Line” and what are the costs of not committing to it… and how it is a temp situation with exceptional efforts not a temporary work flow. (Sort of Project ownership)

    Your article added a lot to me … thank you again.

  3. Steve says

    Are there any approaches to the operational management of projects? For example, business IT where the output is projects. The projects change, but there’s always a continuous stream of projects – that must be managed like an operation.

    • says

      Hello Steve,

      There is no straightforward answer to your question. However, the first thing is to recognise that project management and operations management are not the same. Nonetheless, many organisations do have a “continuous stream of projects” that need managing effectively. The mistake is to treat them as a business-as-usual endeavour.

      The correct approach is to develop a project management capability in the organisation. When organisations are proficient in project management they value the project manager and recognise project management as a strategic resource. In turn, the successful delivery of project is more likely. There are no shortcuts to successful project management.

      As ever, Martin

  4. Bongani Masocha says

    Hi Martin

    I am pursuing a career in Project Management and your explanations are easy to understand. I hope you shall help me throughout this course. May I get some contacts for easier communications.

    Thanks

  5. Gisael Gomez says

    Hi guys!, I know this post is kind of old, but I just found it surfing on the web, and do not want to lose the opportunity to ask you all something.

    I am holding a BS in System Engineering, and I came to USA hoping to work at the oil industry. I am almost finishing a AAS in Petroleum Engineering, and I am also planning to take a master degree related to project/operations management. As I said before, I want to work in the oil industry and I know that there are lots of opportunities for managers. I have found a MS in Operations Management at the University of Arkansas, and I just want to ask you I you have heard something about this program.

    I am not pretty clear about what should I do, if a MS in Project or in Operations. What you think is a better choice for someone who wants to work in the oil industry.

    Thank you so much.!

    Gisael.

    • says

      Hello Gisael,

      I don’t work in the oil industry, so can’t comment on that or the degree course you mention. However, I do think the best course of action is to seek experience in your chosen industry. So, find employment or an internship. Qualifications are important but you do need to get practical knowledge and experience.

      As ever,
      Martin

    • says

      Hello Amos,

      I think the post concisely sets out the difference between project management and operations management, and the different skills needed for each. So, I’d say a qualified no. In some cases, the operations manager may want to implement change that requires close control. Planning, stakeholder management, progress reporting and so on would be beneficial skills.

      As ever,
      Martin

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